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Cities, Salaries, and the Quality of Life
by Kelli Smith

A new city could mean a higher salary or the career you've always dreamed of, but things like cost of living, quality of life, and your specific needs need to be taken into account. Whether you're heading to a new place alone, or you're taking a big family, you can find a city that fits your life.

Salary: Only Half the Story

Your job prospects may be the biggest part of a new move. You need to land on your feet in a new city, with enough savings to last you three months' rent if you don't have a job lined up already. Think of your career possibilities, and compare the details of a new city to your current situation.

Some areas that seem like obvious choices for a career could actually be dead ends. One big example is technology and the Bay Area. According to an article in eWeek, the high cost of living and the rise of telecommuting are decreasing the Silicon Valley's power as a technological hub. "A $70,000 salary in the San Francisco valley doesn't even ensure that an individual will break even," according to the article. While that kind of money might allow you to live comfortably in a city like Miami or Phoenix, everything from homes to gas to food costs more in the Bay Area, and you don't want your entire paycheck going to rent or a house payment.

Keep in mind that workers in large metropolitan cities make more money then those in small towns. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that workers in cities made an average of $19.37 an hour, compared to the $14.63 hourly wage in smaller towns. Workers in the Mid-Atlantic region including New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania made the most money at $21.19 an hour, and the East South Central region (including Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi) made an average of $14.66 an hour. Wages can vary drastically based on region and city size, and you always have to take cost of living into account.

Lowest Rent in the U.S.

The following states had the lowest average housing costs for renters in 2004, according to a report by the U.S. Census: * Alabama * Arkansas * Iowa * Kentucky * Oklahoma * Mississippi * Montana * North Dakota * South Dakota * West Virginia * Wyoming

Rent may be dramatically higher near universities, but it will be nowhere near the cost of living in the most expensive places to live in the U.S.: A house in Newport Beach, CA costs an average of $1,362,500. Homes in Greenwich, CT cost $1,129,000, and Santa Barbara, CA homes average in at $979,500.

Quality of Life

Keeping costs low isn't the only way to be happy in a new city. The quality of life in a city is hard to measure, and is different for every person. If you love to lose yourself in art galleries, the museum districts in Houston or San Francisco might be more important to you than how much you pay for rent in those areas. Contact a city's tourism board or research online with a list of things that matter to you.

Your Future Home: Things to Consider

Healthcare. Does a loved one need special care nearby--a heart hospital, for example, or a children's medical center? Keep your family's future health in mind, as well.

Environment. Are parks and hiking trails an afterthought of a city, or does the environment bring the community together? If you're thinking of moving into a big city, consider the importance of nature in your life.

Crime. Crime rates are easily available on many city police websites. Often, you can search within a certain neighborhood or area.

Climate. From monsoons to snow drifts, U.S. weather can vary drastically from state to state. Make sure you can tolerate both the year-round seasons and the allergies in the area.

Education. Distance learning may be an option for college if there are no nearby schools. If you have children, be sure to research graduation rates, class sizes, and the school system's budget.

Employment. Large companies in the area may mean more traffic on the freeway, but they can also mean more jobs and a stronger economy.

Experts who study quality of life statistics try to take every aspect of the average American life into account. Aspects like education for all ages and big business might take priority over a city's amount of nightlife or tourism. Here are the top ten places to live in the U.S., according to CNNMoney:

Top Ten Cities in the U.S.

1. Fort Collins, CO 2. Naperville, IL 3. Sugar Land, TX 4. Columbia/Ellicott City, MD 5. Cary, NC 6. Overland Park, KS 7. Scottsdale, AZ 8. Boise, ID 9. Fairfield, CT 10. Eden Prairie, MN

Making the Choice

From schools to weather, healthcare to housing, you have a lot to think about when it comes to a move. When your list of possibilities is narrowed down, look at the list in terms of your education and career options. Keeping your education and training in mind, use employment Web sites and city statistics to estimate the demand for your work.

Moving to a city with a higher demand for your field will make it easier to move if you don't already have an employment plan. If technology is your field, for example, consider cities like New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Boston, where tech jobs are booming. If you want to continue your education but you don't want to live in a college town, consider taking courses online, where you'll have the freedom to work on your degree from anywhere in the world.

Moving to a new city is an exciting time and should involve a lot of planning and research before you even start packing. Spend some quality time researching your new home, and you'll be able to make your move with confidence.

For more information about careers, online and campus based career programs, please visit us at

Kelli Smith may be contacted at or


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